Aug. 22, 2009
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Saturday saw the Wyoming Cowboys scrimmage for the third time this fall in a practice that lasted two hours on one of the hottest days of the summer along the Front Range. Temperatures were in the mid-80s in Laramie when practice concluded a little bit after noon, but the temperature on the artificial turf was over 90 degrees.
"Our defense continues to do a nice job," said Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen. "They're not giving up the big play. They're continuing to perform well.
"I was also really happy with all of our special teams today. I think we've come a long way with our special teams -- our kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return teams -- I think we're making a lot of progress in all of those areas."
One of the big plays of the day came from the special teams on a blocked field goal. The blocked kick was made by redshirt freshman defensive end Corey Orth. Another kick was tipped by senior defensive tackle John Fletcher.
"It was a heck of an effort by both of those guys," said Christensen. "I'm excited by the fact that John Fletcher gets his hand on nearly every kick. When you're on the field-goal block team, it's all based on effort. Coach (Jerry) Montgomery has done a great job of coaching the kick block team. We not only want to block kicks, but we want to force bad kicks and hurried kicks as much as we can. I'm very pleased with our block team and the effort they're putting forth."
Christensen was not, however, pleased with the performance of the Cowboy receivers on Saturday.
"When you come out and drop 12 balls, it makes it very difficult to evaluate quarterbacks," said Christensen. "Our receivers should be excited to compete and play in this style of offense in a game-like situation. They (the receivers) have to understand they have a job to do. We will work on extra drills with them. We'll get the jugs machine out and work with them on focusing on the ball. You get what you emphasize, and we're going to keep coaching them and find ways to get better. The bottom line is they've got to be dying to be better, and that is my challenge to our receiving corps."
When asked about the quarterback spot and where the quarterbacks stood after the third scrimmage, Christensen had this to say.
"We'll have to grade the film, I don't want to base it purely on what I saw during the scrimmage," said Christensen. "We won't make any decisions on where the quarterbacks rank until we've graded the film.
"Robert (Benjamin) did a nice job during the two-minute drill of driving the No. 1 offense down the field to put us in position to kick a winning field goal. I thought Austyn (Carta-Samuels) did a nice job in the two-minute offense, as well. He had a ball dropped during his series, but made some nice throws."
The two-minute drill was the final one of Saturday's scrimmage. Benjamin led the No. 1 offense on a 58-yard drive in 10 plays that ended at the No. 2 defense's two-yard line, with three seconds remaining on the clock. Sophomore place-kicker/punter Austin McCoy came in and hit a 20-yard field goal. Senior place-kicker Jake Scott also hit from 20 yards immediately following that drive as the two kickers continued to attempt identical length kicks throughout the scrimmage -- as they have all fall.
Carta-Samuels moved the No. 2 offense 21 yards against the No. 1 defense in the final period before junior free safety Chris Prosinski intercepted the freshman quarterback to end the scrimmage.
On the day, Benjamin led the quarterbacks in passing yards, completing 10 of 21 passes (47.6 percent) for 117 yards one touchdown pass and one interception. Carta-Samuels completed 8 of 14 passes (57.1 percent) for 69 yards. He, like Benjamin, also had one TD pass and threw one interception. Senior Karsten Sween completed the highest percentage of passes on the day 8 of 12 (66.7 percent) for 64 yards, no TDs and no interceptions. Junior Dax Crum was 1 of 2 passing on the day for eight yards.
Saturday was the first scrimmage this fall in which no score was kept during the scrimmage. The offense did score four touchdowns on the day. The first TD was on a six-yard touchdown pass from Carta-Samuels to fellow freshman, tight end David Tooley to finish off a short 19-yard drive, with the No. 2 offense facing the No. 1 defense. The longest pass play of the day accounted for Wyoming's second TD on a 36-yard pass from Benjamin to junior wide receiver David Leonard, capping a seven-play, 75-yard drive by the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense. The longest rushing play of the day resulted in a 65-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman running back James Caraway on the first play from scrimmage in a series pitting the No. 3 offense against the No. 3 defense. Wyoming's fourth score was a one-yard run by sophomore running back James Davis as the No. 2 defense scored on a two-play, 15-yard drive against the No. 1 defense. Both of the scores against the No. 1 defense came on drives that began in the redzone.
Senior Greg Bolling had six receptions for 57 yards to lead all receivers in catches. Leonard led in receiving yards, with 63. Caraway led all running backs in rushing yards, carrying the ball three times for 65 yards.
Wyoming's combined offensive totals, in approximately 80 offensive plays, were: 248 passing yards and 137 rushing yards for 385 yards of total offense. The offense had six penalties called against it for 42 yards. The defense committed only one penalty for nine yards.
The Cowboy defense forced three turnovers on Saturday. In addition to Prosinski's interception of Carta-Samuels on the final play of the scrimmage, senior defensive tackle Mike Neuhaus also intercepted Benjamin at the line of scrimmage. For Neuhaus it marked the second consecutive scrimmage that he has had an interception. He of course intercepted a pass against Tennessee in the 2008 season that set up Wyoming's first touchdown in a 13-7 upset win in Knoxville, Tenn., over the Volunteers. Orth, who blocked the field goal later in the scrimmage, earlier forced Benjamin to fumble and that fumble was recovered by sophomore linebacker Josh Biezuns.
The Cowboy defense was led by Prosinski and sophomore starting inside linebacker Brian Hendricks, who each had six tackles on the day. Hendricks also had 1.0 sack for four yards. The Cowboys' other starting inside linebacker, sophomore Gabe Knapton recorded five tackles, and senior starting outside linebacker Weston Johnson was credited with four tackles, including a tackle for a loss. All total the Cowboy defense recorded 7.0 tackles for losses of 37 yards, including 2.0 sacks for 11 yards.
Scott had the edge in the kicking battle on Saturday. He was a perfect 6 of 6 in field-goal attempts, making field goals from 20, 21, 31, 35, 38 and 42. McCoy made 4 of 6 field-goal attempts. He was successful from 20, 21, 35 and 42. McCoy suffered the one blocked field goal from 31 yards, and he missed a 38-yard attempt to the right.
One player who was playing a new position in Saturday's scrimmage was senior T.J. Atwater. A defensive back throughout his career, Atwater began practicing at wide receiver this past week and played receiver for the first time in a scrimmage as a Cowboy on Saturday. He caught three passes for 17 yards on the day.
"T.J. (Atwater) came up to us this week and asked if he could work some with the receivers," said Christensen. "He's at practice everyday, and he can see that we haven't been consistent at that position. He can catch the football pretty well and has moved over to the offensive side of the ball to play receiver."
Another note on the Cowboy receivers was an update on freshman wide receiver Chris McNeill, who suffered a concussion in Wyoming's first scrimmage of the fall on Friday, Aug. 14. Christensen said that McNeill was back practicing, but not yet in contact drills. If McNeill continues to progress, he may be cleared for contact beginning late next week, and so could be available the following week leading up to the season opener against Weber State on Saturday, Sept. 5.
Another freshman who suffered an injured knee in the first scrimmage back on Aug. 14 is outside linebacker Devyn Harris. Christensen said that Harris is likely to be out several weeks before he can return to practice.
Overall, Christensen continued to emphasize a desire to make his football team tougher as they prepare for the 2009 season.
"I am disappointed in the mental toughness of our football team right now," added Christensen. "We looked fragile out there today. We've got to get tougher. We'll get back to work on Tuesday, and get things straightened out."
School begins at the University of Wyoming on Monday, Aug. 24. The Cowboys will lift on Sunday, Aug. 23. There won't be any practice on Monday, but the Cowboys will have position meetings. The Pokes will return to the practice field on Tuesday, Aug. 25 with a 3:30 p.m. practice.
The fourth and final scrimmage of the fall is planned for Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 3:30 p.m.